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  • Soap opera puts human cloning in the public eye

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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazilians are being introduced to the potential ethical dilemmas raised by human cloning through one of their favourite pastimes — watching a television soap opera. But some scientists are worried that the television programmes may be giving the procedure too glamorous an image.

Broadcast by Rede Globo, which means that the programme reaches about half of the country’s population of 170 million, O Clone (The Clone) follows the story of a very rich man who loses one of his 18-year-old twin sons, and a geneticist friend who decides to clone the brother.

As usual in Brazilian soap operas, romantic issues are given a high profile. But the script-writer, Glória Perez, has been able to insert a significant amount of scientific information about cloning, including explanations of what the technique involves and how it works.

The programme has received mixed reviews from scientists. Márcia Margis, for example, a geneticist of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, describes the soap opera is “an interesting tool for evoking the curiosity of people toward cloning, stimulating them to look for further information".

But Mayana Zatz, a geneticist of the University of São Paulo who acted as a consultant to the programme, presents a different point of view. She expresses concern that the story-line, as presented, might stimulate people to try to clone themselves or someone else.

Zatz argues that, in addition to highlighting what television producers consider to be the most positive aspects of human cloning, the soap opera should also promote a serious discussion on the theme, for example, by alerting viewers to the substantial health risks that could be created in a cloned individual.

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